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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 17 — Protestantism in France From Death of Francis I (1547) to Edict of Nantes (1598)

Chapter 9 — The first Huguenot War, and death of the Duke of Guise

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Final Overtures–Rejection–The Two Standards–Division of France– Orleans the Huguenot Headquarters–Conde the Leader–Coligny– The Two Armies Meet–Catherine's Policy–No Battle–Rouen Besieged–Picture of the Two Camps–Fall of Rouen– Miseries – Death of the King of Navarre–Battle of Dreux – Duke of Guise sole Dictator–Conde a Prisoner–Orleans Besieged–The Inhabitants to be put to the Sword–The Duke of Guise Assassinated– Catherine de Medici Supreme–Pacification of Amboise.

Unwilling to commit himself irrevocably to war, the Prince of Conde made yet another overture to the court, before unsheathing the sword and joining battle. He was willing to furl his banner and dismiss his soldiers, provided a guarantee were given him that the Edict of January would be observed till the king attained his majority, and if then his majesty should be pleased no longer to grant liberty of conscience to his subjects, the prince and his confederates were to have liberty to retire into some other country, without prejudice to their estates and goods. And further, he demanded that the Triumvirs meanwhile should withdraw from court, adding that if the Government did not accept these reasonable terms, it would be answerable for all the calamities that might befall the kingdom. [1] These terms were not accepted; and all efforts in the interest of peace having now been exhausted, the several provinces and cities of the kingdom made haste to rally, each under its respective standard. Once again France pronounces upon the question of its future; and unhappily it repeats the old answer: it confirms the choice it had made under Francis I. A second time it takes the downward road – that leading to revolution and the abyss. France is not unanimous, however; it is nearly equally divided. Speaking generally, all France south of the Loire declared for the Protestant cause. All the great cities of the Orleanois–Tours, Poictiers, Bourges, Nismes, Montauban, Valence, Lyons, Toulouse, Bordeaux– opened their gates to the soldiers of Conde, and cordially joined his standard: as did also the fortified castles of Languedoc and Dauphine. In the north, Normandy, with its towns and castles, declared for the same side. [2] The cities and provinces just enumerated were the most populous and flourishing in France. It was in these parts that the Reformation had struck its roots the most deeply, and hence the unanimity and alacrity with which their inhabitants enrolled themselves on the Protestant side.

Coliguy, though serving as Conde's lieutenant, was the master-genius and director of the campaign. His strength of character, his long training in military affairs, his resource, his prudence, his indomitable resolution, all marked him out as the man pre-eminently qualified to lead, although the notions of the age required that such an enterprise should be graced by having as its ostensible head a prince of the blood. Coligny, towering above the other princes and nobles around Conde, inspired the soldiers with confidence, for they knew that he would lead them to victory, or if that were denied, that he could do what may seem more difficult, turn defeat into triumph. His sagacious eye it was that indicated Orleans as the true center of the Huguenot strategy. Here, with the broad stream of the Loire rolling in front of their position, and the friendly provinces of the south lying behind it, they would lack neither provisions nor soldiers. Supplies to any amount would be poured into their eamp by the great highway of the river, and they could recruit their army from the enthusiastic populations in their rear. But further, the Huguenots made themselves masters of Rouen in Normandy, which commands the Seine; this enabled them to isolate Paris, the camp of the enemy; they could close the gates of the two main arteries through which the capital procured its supplies, and afflict it with famine: by shutting the Loire they could cut off from it the wine and fruits of the fertile south; and their command of the Seine enabled them to stop at their pleasure the transportation of the corn and cattle of the north.

With these two strong positions, the one in the south and the other in the north of the capital, it seemed as if it needed only that the Huguenots should make themselves masters of Paris in order to end the campaign. "Paris," says Devils, "alone gave more credit to its party than half the kingdom would have done." It was a stronghold of Romanism, and its fanatical population furnished an unrivaled recruiting-field for the Triumvirate. The advantage which the possession of Paris would give the Huguenots, did not escape the sagacious glance of Coligny, and he counselled Conde to march upon it at once, and strike before the Guises had had time to complete their preparations for its defense. The Prince unhappily delayed till the golden opportunity had passed. [3]

In the end of June, Conde and Coligny set out from Orleans to attack Paris, and almost at the same moment the Triumvirs began their march from Paris to besiege the Huguenots in Orleans. The two armies, which consisted of about 10,000 each, met half-way between the two cities. A battle was imminent, and if fought at that moment would probably have been advantageous to the Huguenot arms. But the Queen-mother, feigning a horror of bloodshed, came forward with a proposal for a conference between the leaders on both sides. Catherine de Medici vaunted that she could do more with her pen than twenty generals with their swords, and her success on this occasion went far to justify her boast. Her proposal entangled the Protestants in the meshes of diplomacy. The expedient which Catherine's genius had hit upon for securing peace was that the leaders of the two parties should go into exile till the king had attained his majority, and the troubles of the nation had subsided. But the proposed exile was not equal. Coligny and his confederates were to quit France, the Guises. and their friends were

only to retire from court. [4] One obvious consequence of this arrangement was that Catherine would remain in sole possession of the field, and would rule without a compeer. The Triumvirs were to remain within call, should the Queen-mother desire their presence; Conde and Coligny, on the other hand, were to remove beyond the frontier; and once gone, a long time would elapse before they should be told that their services were needed, or that the soil of France was able to bear their steps. The trap was too obvious for the Hugmenot chiefs to fall into it. The Queen had gained her end, however; her adroitness had shielded Paris, and it had wasted time in favor of the Government, for the weeks as they sped past increased the forces of the royalists, and diminished those of the Huguenots.

It was the Triumvirs that made the next move in the campaign, by resolving to attack Rouen. Masters of this town, the Huguenots, as we have said, held the keys of the Seine, and having cut off the supplies from Paris, the Triumvirs were greatly alarmed, for it was hard to say how long the fanaticism and loyaltry of the Parisians would withstand the sobering influences of starvation. The Seine must be kept open at all costs; the Government, moreover, was not free from fear that the Queen of England would send troops into Normandy, and occupy that province, with the help of the Huguenots. Should this happen, Paris itself would be in danger. Accordingly the Duke of Guise was dispatched with his army to besiege Rouen. While he is digging his trenches, posting his forces, and preparing the assault, let us observe the state of discipline and sobriety in the the camps.

We are all familiar with the pictures of Cromwell's army. We have read how his camp resounded with the unwonted sounds of psalms and prayers, and how his soldiers were animated by a devotion that made them respond as alertly to a summons to sermon, which they knew would be of two hours' length, as to a summons to scale the breach, or join battle. A century before the great English Puritan, similar pictures might be witnessed in the camp of the French Huguenots. The morale of their armies was high, and the discipline of their camp strict, especially in their early campaigns. The soldier carried the Bible a-field, and this did more than the strictest code or severest penalty to check disorder and excess.

The Huguenots had written up on their banners, "For God and the Prince," and they felt bound to live the Gospel as well as fight for it. Their troops were guilty of no acts of pillage, the barn of the farmer and the store of the merchant were perfectly safe in their neighborhood, and everything which they obtained from the inhabitants they paid for. Cards and dice were banished their camp; oaths and blasphemies were never heard; acts of immorality and lewdness were prohibited under very severe penalties, and were of rare occurrence. One officer of high rank, who brought disgrace upon the Huguenot army by an act of libertinism, was hanged. [5]

Inside the town of Rouen, round which there now rose a bristling wall of hostile standards and redoubts, the same beautiful order prevailed. Besides the inhabitants, there were 12,000 choice foot-soldiers from Conde's army, four squadrons of horse, and 2,000 English in the place, with 100 gentlemen who had volunteered to perish in the defense of the town. [6] The theatres were closed. There needed no imaginary drama, when one so real was passing before the inhabitants. The churches were opened, and every day there was sermon in them. In their houses the citizens chanted their daily psalm, just as if battle had been far distant from their gates. On the ramparts, the inspired odes of Hebrew times were thundered forth with a chorus of voices that rose loud above the shouting of the captains, and the booming of the cannon.

The enthusiasm for the defense pervaded all ranks, and both sexes. The daughters and wives of the citizen-soldiers hastened to the walls, and regardless of the deadly shot falling thick around them, they kept their fathers and husbands supplied with ammunition and weapons. [7] They would maintain their liberties or die. The town was under the command of the Count Montgomery. [8] Pursued by the implacable resentment of Catherine de Medici, he had fled to England, where he embraced the Reformed religion, and whence he returned to France to aid the Huguenots in their great struggle. He was a skillful and courageous general, and knowing that he would receive no quarter, he was resolved rather than surrender to make Rouen his grave.

Let us turn to the royalist camp. The picture presented to us there is the reverse of that which we have been contemplating. "There," says Felice, "the grossest licentiousness prevailed." Catherine de Medici was present with her maids of honor, who did not feel themselves under any necessity to practice severer virtues in the trenches than they usually observed in the Louvre. Games and carousals filled up the leisure hours of the common soldiers, while tournaments and intrigues occupied the captains and knights. These two widely different pictures are parted not by an age, but simply by the city walls of Rouen.

The King of Navarre commanded in the royalist camp. The besiegers assaulted the town not less than six times, and each time were repulsed. At the end of the fifth week a mine was sprung, great part of the wall was laid in ruins, and the soldiers scaling the breach, Rouen was taken. It was the first to drink that bitter cup which so many of the cities of France were afterwards called to drain. For a whole week it was given up to the soldiers. They did their pleasure in it, and what that pleasure was can be conceived

without our describing it. Permitting the veil to rest on the other horrors, we shall select for description two deaths of very different character. The first is that of Pastor Augustin Marlorat. Of deep piety and great erudition, he had figured conspicuously in the Colloquy of Poissy, where the Reformation had vindicated itself before the civil and ecclesiastical grandees of France. Present in the city during the five memorable weeks of the siege, his heroic words, daily addressed to the citizens from the pulpit, had been translated by the combatants into heroic deeds on the wall. "You have seduced the people," said Constable de Montmorency to him, when he was brought before him after the capture of the town. "If so," calmly replied Marlorat, "God first seduced me, for I have preached nothing to them but the Gospel of his Son." Placed on a hurdle, he was straightway dragged to the gallows and hanged, sustaining with meekness and Christian courage the indignities and cruelties inflicted on him at the place of execution. [9]

The other death-scene is that of Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre. Ensnared, as we have already said, by the brilliant but altogether delusive promises of the King of Spain, he had deserted the Protestants, and consented to be the ornamental head of the Romanist party. He was mortally wounded in the siege, and seeing death approaching, he was visited with a bitter but a late repentance. He implored his physician, who strove in vain to cure his wound, to read to him out of the Scriptures; and he protested, the tears streaming clown his face, that if his life were spared he would cause the Gospel to be preached all throughout his dominions. [10] He died at the age ot forty-four, regretted by neither party.

After the fall and sack of Rouen, seven weeks passed away, and then the two armies met (19th December) near the town of Dreux. This was the first pitched battle of the civil wars, and the only regular engagement in the first campaign. The disparity of force was considerable, the Huguenots having only 10,000 of all arms, while the royalists had 20,000, horse and foot, on the field. Battle being joined, the Huguenots had won the day when a stratagem of the Duke of Guise snatched victory from their grasp. All the time that the battle was raging–that is, from noon till five in the afternoon –Guise sat in the rear, surrounded by a chosen body of men-at-arms, intently watching the progress of the action, and at times sending forward the other Triumvirs with succors. At last the moment he had waited for came. The duke rode out to the front, rose in his stirrups, cast a glance over the field, and bidding his reserves follow, for the day was theirs, dashed forward. The Huguenots had broken their ranks and were pursuing the routed royalists all over the field. The duke was upon them before they had time to reform, and wearied with fighting, and unable, to sustain this onset of fresh troops, they went down before the cavalry of the duke. [11] Guise's stratagem had succeeded. Victory passed over from the Huguenot to the royalist side.

The carnage was great. Eight thousand dead covered the field, among whom was La Brosse, who had begun the massacre at Vassy. The rank not less than the numbers of the slain gave great political consequence to the battle. The Marshal St. Andre was killed; Montmorency, severely wounded, had surrendered himself prisoner; and thus, of the three Triumvirs, Guise alone remained. The battle of Dreux had crowned him with a double victory, for his immediate appointment as lieutenant-general of the kingdom, and commander-in-chief of the army, placed France in his hands.

This battle left its mark on the Huguenot side also. The Prince of Conde was taken prisoner at the very close of the action. Being led to the head-quarters of Guise, the duke and the prince passed the night in the same bed; [12] the duke, it is said, sleeping soundly, and Conde lying awake, ruminating on the strange fortune of war which had so suddenly changed him from a conqueror into a captive. The prince being now a prisoner, Coligny was appointed generalissimo of the Huguenots. The two Bourbons were removed, and Guise and Coligny stood face to face. It chanced that a messenger who had left the field at the moment that the battle was going against the Government, brought to the Louvre the news that the Huguenots had won the day. The remark of Catherine de Medici, who foresaw that the triumph of Coligny would diminish the power of Guise–whose authority had begun to over-shadow her own–was imperturbably cool, and shows how little effort it cost her to be on either side, if only she could retain power. "Well, then," she said, on hearing the messenger's report, "Well, then, we shall have to say our prayers in French." [13]

The war went on, although it had to be waged on a frozen earth, and beneath skies often dark with tempest; for it was winter. All France was at this hour a battle-field. Not a province was there, scarce even a city, in which the Roman Catholics and Huguenots were not arrayed in arms against each other. We nmst follow the march of the main army, however, without turning aside to chronicle provincial conflicts. After the defeat at Dreux, Coligny–now commander-in-chief – formed the Huguenot forces into two armies, and with the one he marched into Normandy, and sent his brother D'Andelot at the head of the other to occupy Orleans– that great center and stronghold of the Huguenot cause. The Duke of Guise followed close on the steps of the latter, in order to besiege Orleans. Having sat down before the town on the 5th of February, 1563, the siege was prosecuted with great rigor. The bridge of the Loire was taken. Next two important

suburbs fell into the hands of the duke. On the 18th all was ready for the capture of Orleans on the morrow, he wrote to the Queen-mother, telling her that his purpose was to put every man and woman in Orleans to the sword, and sow its foundations with salt. [14] This good beginning he would follow up by summoning all the nobles of France, with their retainers, to his standard, and with this mighty host he would pursue the admiral into Normandy, and drive him and all his followers into the sea, and so stamp out the Huguenot insurrection. "Once unearth the foxes," said he, "and we will hunt them all over France." [15]

Such was the brief and terrible program of the duke for purging France of the Huguenot heresy. Where today stood the fair city of Orleans, tomorrow would be seen only a blackened heap; and wherever this leprosy had spread, thither, all over France, would the duke pursue it with fire and sword, and never rest till it was burned out. A whole hecatomb of cities, provinces, and men would grace the obsequies of Huguenotism. The duke had gone to the trenches to see that all was ready for the assault that was to give Orleans to him on the morrow. Of all that he had ordered to be done, nothing had been omitted. Well pleased the duke was returning along the road to his chateau in the evening twilight. Behind him was the city of Orleans, the broad and deep Loire rolling beneath its walls, and the peaceful darkness gathering round its towers. Alas! before another sun shall set, there will not be left in that city anything in which is the breath of life. The blood of mother and helpless babe, of stern warrior, grey patriarch, and blooming maiden, will be blent in one red torrent, which shall rival the Loire in depth. It is a great sacrifice, but one demanded for the salvation of France. By the side of the road, partly hidden by two walnut-trees that grow on the spot, sits a figure on horseback, waiting for the approach of some one. He hears the sound of horses' hoofs. It is the duke that is coming; he knows him by his white plume; he permits him to pass, then slipping up close behind him, discharges his pistol. The ball entered the right shoulder of the duke–for he wore no cuirass–and passed through the chest. The duke bent for a moment upon his horse's mane, but instantly resuming his erect position in the saddle, he declared his belief that the wound was slight, and added good-humoredly, "They owed me this." It was soon seen, however, that the wound was mortal, and his attendants crowding round him, carried him to his house, and laid him on the bed from which he was to rise no more.

The assassin was John Poltrot, a petty nobleman of Angoumois, whom the duke's butcheries, and his own privations, had worked up into a fanaticism as sincere and as criminal as that of the duke himself. The horror of the crime seems to have bewildered him, for instead of making his escape on his fine Spanish horse, he rode round and round the spot where the deed had been done, all night, [16] and when morning broke he was apprehended. He at first charged Coligny with being privy to the murder, and afterwards denied it. The admiral indignantly repudiated the accusation, and demanded to be confronted with Poltrot. [17] The Government hurried on the execution of the assassin, and thus showed its disbelief in the charge he had advanced against Coligny, by preventing the opportunity of authenticating an allegation which, had they been able to substantiate it, would have done much to bring strength and credit to their cause, and in the same proportion to disgrace and damage that of the Huguenots.

We return to the duke, who was now fast approaching his latter end. Death set some things in a new light. His belief in Roman Catholicism it did not shake, but it filled him with remorse for the cruel measures by which he had endeavored to support it. He forgave his enemies, he asked that his blood might not be revenged, he confessed his infidelities to his duchess, [18] who stood beside him dissolved in tears, and he earnestly counselled Catherine de Medici to make peace with the Huguenots, saying "that it was so necessary, that whoever should oppose it ought to be deemed an impious man, and an enemy to the king and the kingdom." [19]

The death of the Duke of Guise redeems somewhat the many dark passages in his life, and the sorrow into which he was melted at his latter end moderates the horror we feel at his bigotry and the cruel excesses into which it hurried him. But it more concerns us to note that he died at the moment when he had attained that proud summit he had long striven to reach. He was sole Triumvir: he was at the head of the army: all the powers of government were gathered into his single hand: Huguenotism was at his feet: his arm was raised to crush it, when, in the words of Pasquier, his "horn was lowered."

The death of the Duke of Guise threw the government into the hands of Catherine de Medici. It was now that this woman, whom death seemed ever to serve, reached the summit of her wishes. Her son, Charles IX, reigned, but the mother governed. In presence of the duke's bier, Catherine was not indisposed to peace with the Protestants, but it was of her nature to work crookedly in all that she undertook. She had the Prince of Conde in the Louvre with her, and she set herself to weave her toils around him. Taken prisoner on the battle-field, as we have already said, "he was breathing," says Hezeray,

"the soft air of the court," and the Queen-mother made haste to conclude the negotiations for peace before Coligny should arrive, who might not be so pliant as Conde. The prince had a conference with several of the Protestant ministers, who were unanimously of opinion that no peace could be satisfactory or honorable unless it restored, without restriction or modification, the Edict of January, which gave to all the Reformed in France the liberty of public worship. The Queen-mother and Conde, however, patched up a Pacification of a different kind. They agreed on a treaty, of which the leading provisions were that the nobles should have liberty to celebrate the Reformed worship in their castles, that the same privilege should be granted to certain of the gentry, and that a place should be set apart in certain only of the towns, where the Protestants might meet for worship.

This arrangement came far short of the Edict of January, which knew no restriction of class or place in the matter of worship, but extended toleration to all the subjects of the realm. This new treaty did nothing for the pastors: it did nothing for the great body of the people, save that it did not hinder them from holding opinions in their own breasts, and celebrating, it might be, their worship at their own firesides. This peace was signed by the king at Ambose on the 19th April, 1563; it was published before the camp at Orleans on the 22nd, amid the murmurs of the soldiers, who gave vent to their displeasure by the demolition of some images which, till that time, had been permitted to repose quietly in their niches. [20] This edict was termed the "Pacification of Amboise." When the Admiral de Coligny was told of it he said indignantly, "This stroke of the pen has ruined more churches than our enemies could have knocked down in ten years." [21] Returning by forced marches to Orleans in the hope of finding better terms, Coligny arrived just the day after the treaty had been signed and sealed.

Such was the issue of the first Huguenot war. If the Protestants had won no victory on the battle-field, their cause nevertheless was in a far stronger position now than when the campaign opened. The Triumvirs were gone; the Roman Catholic armies were without a leader, and the national exchequer was empty; while, on the other side, at the head of the Huguenot host was now the most skillful captain of his age. If the Huguenot nobles had had the wisdom and the courage to demand full toleration of their worship, the Government would not have dared to refuse it, seeing they were not in circumstances at the time to do so; but the Protestants were not true to themselves at this crisis, and so the hour passed, and with it all the golden opportunities it had brought. New enemies stood up, and new tempests darkened the sky of France.


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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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